Carissa Catalani is a sophomore at USF and has been in a relationship for nine months. She takes birth control pills to prevent pregnancy and was vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV) – the most common form of STD. She and her boyfriend were tested for sexually transmitted diseases before they engaged in sexual activity.
However, she doesn’t represent the norm among students, most of whom are less concerned about unprotected sex.
“Most of my friends are not concerned and it concerns me that they are not concerned,” Catalani said. “Some of them don’t get tested and they don’t care about it.”
Tricia Trow-Weaver, a physician’s assistant in the women’s clinic at Student Health Services (SHS), said approximately one in three USF students has some form of HPV and that more than 30 types of HPV can infect both men and women.
“I think there is more awareness than (there) used to be, but there is still that philosophy of putting our head in the sand and believing that it won’t happen to us,” Trow-Weaver said.
About 75 percent of women are going to get some form of HPV in their lifetimes, said SHS Senior Health Educator Laura Rusnak.”Bottom line, people never think it (will) happen to them until it does or it happens to somebody that they know, and that’s when (people) are willing to listen,” Rusnak said.
HPV is often symptomless, so many people who have contracted the virus may not be aware of it. However, the virus can manifest itself as genital warts – which may be removed but will likely reappear – or cervical cancer.
Genital herpes is the most common sexually transmitted disease after HPV, Rusnak said, and it causes blisters and sores. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 percent of adults are infected with herpes.
Although there is no cure for genital herpes, oral medication can be taken to control the course of the outbreaks, Rusnak said.
Though herpes and HPV are common infections, two other STDs that cause major health concerns are chlamydia and gonorrhea. If not treated promptly with antibiotics, both can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to infertility in women.
“Herpes is more common, but more people suffer from more negative health complications of chlamydia and gonorrhea,” Rusnak said.
Rusnak suggests that female students who are sexually active get tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia along with their annual Papanicolaou test (pap smear).
“A lot of women do not understand that a pap smear is used to make sure there is no cancer or pre-cancer,” Trow-Weaver said. “They think that if they got their pap smear they are STD-free, and that’s not the case.”
Rusnak said the lack of STD awareness among students makes them less inclined to use condoms. Latex condoms provide an effective form of protection against pregnancy and STDs if used correctly. However, most people do not use them correctly, which reduces their effectiveness.
“People know that having sex can transmit STDs, but they don’t know how common they are and many people do not use condoms,” Rusnak said. “Some people don’t like condoms because honestly, they will decrease the sexual sensation.”
Rebecca Willman, a women’s studies graduate student who teaches Human Sexual Behavior, worked for Planned Parenthood in Jacksonville for two years. She said in her experience, many young women have unprotected sex because they do not feel comfortable asking their partner to use a condom.
“One thing I always told women in the clinic is that if he has a choice between wearing it or not having sex, guess which one he would choose,” she said. “It seems to me that the number one thing we can do to protect men and women from getting STDs is to encourage more communication, because that seems to be lacking. (We’ve) got all these methods to help people protect themselves, but we don’t encourage them to communicate with one another.”
Student Health Services provides testing for all STDs. For more information on testing and other services, visit SHS or call 974-2331.